Collision with Collusion: Partisan Reaction to the Trump-Russia Scandal
by Joshua P. Darr, Louisiana State University, Nathan P. Kalmoe, Louisiana State University, Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University, Mingxiao Sui, Ferrum College, Raymond J. Pingree, Manship School of Mass Communication, Brian K. Watson, Crosswind Media & P.R, Kirill Bryanov, Manship School of Mass Communication and Martina Santia, Manship School of Mass Communication,
President Donald Trump faced substantial scandal coverage early in his presidency. Can these stories about presidential controversies change the opinions of Trump’s fellow Republicans, or are the efforts of the news media to inform partisans about prominent issues futile? Past research on partisan reactions to major political scandals were confounded by problems with self-reported media use and single-shot experimental treatments. We address these concerns using a unique, repeated-exposure experimental design that either randomly supplied participants with news about the Trump-Russia scandal, or removed most of those stories from view, over the course of one week in June 2017. This design mimics sustained media attention to a political scandal and disentangles the effects of media coverage from selection in the context of a high-choice media environment. We find that Republicans randomly assigned to see more Trump-Russia headlines reacted more negatively than Democrats or Independents, rating Trump’s performance lower and expressing more negative emotions about him. Republicans’ perceptions of media bias were not affected by Trump-Russia stories, and effects were not contingent upon clicking the articles. Intense media focus on a story can alter partisans’ evaluations of politicians by shifting the balance of headlines.